Rodney Dickey didn’t move to Savannah to open a film studio. In fact, the successful businessman will be the first to tell you he knew nothing about the industry.
What he does know when he sees one, however, is a business opportunity.
With encouragement from daughters April and Allison — who do know a thing or two about the industry — Dickey has transformed a cavernous warehouse on Gulfstream Road into River Oaks Film Studios, filling a significant void in Savannah’s burgeoning film business.
On Thursday evening, River Oaks opened its doors to showcase the first part of Phase 1 — a 20,000-square-foot sound stage featuring the latest in soundproofing, electrical rigging and movable walls.
Grammy winner and multi-platinum-selling artist Ed Roland of Collective Soul and Sweet Tea Project was the featured performer as Americana/folk newcomer Faye Webster kicked off the evening’s festivities. Coastal Empire Beer provided micro-brew and appetizers were courtesy of Bow Tie Barbecue Co.
“Savannah has always been one of my favorite towns in my home state,” Roland said. “It’s nice to see the growing Georgia film industry expanding into Savannah and I am happy to be a part of the kick off at River Oaks Film Studios.”
At build-out, the 150,000-square-foot facility will provide six sound stages as well as mill shops for the creation of props, office space for makeup and dressing rooms, and more.
The space also boasts 29-foot ceilings, silent air conditioning, sound-proof studios and ample parking. Dickey will provide a base camp for crews, as well as truck parking with 24-hour security.
Three of the stages will encompass about 16,000 square feet each and the remaining stages will provide between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet each.
“I knew the building would be perfect for sound stages because of the parking, the dock spaces, the high ceilings and the way the building is configured,” Dickey said.
The stages also have the ability to open up and connect, so if a production needed 25,000 square feet of space, River Oaks could accommodate them.
Another 100,000-square-foot space is expected to be available near the end of this year, giving River Oaks the ability to offer production companies a campus-like setting with multiple buildings.
“Once that building is online, that’s where we’ll house the mill shop, offices and makeup/dressing rooms, because noise won’t be an issue,” Dickey said.
A growing industry
Beth Nelson, executive director of the Savannah Film Office, said infrastructure and crew are two of the most critical needs for creating a sustainable industry in Savannah.
“Available facilities have been limited here, but the growth of film studios is a key indicator that we are moving in the right direction,” Nelson said.
“We are excited to add River Oaks Film Studios to Savannah’s inventory of infrastructure.”
Georgia has experienced a boom in film production since 2008, when new state legislation offered 30 percent tax credits to production companies.
In 2016, the Savannah Economic Development Authority added a local film incentive that is offered on top of the state incentive to help grow the industry in the region.
Those new incentives, which included cash rebates for feature films and televisions series, proved so popular in hat first year that the office had to stop accepting applications in November and ended the year with six different projects shooting across the area.
Dickey said SEDA and the Savannah Film Office have been instrumental in helping his new organization get off the ground.
“We couldn’t have done this without their input,” he said.